Addressing (Good morning, Miss!)


I somehow feel it rather confusing when speaking to my non-native teachers in English. You know, students here don’t usually call their teacher “professor” (for instant, there is no “Good morning, professor!”). Then what can we say in such cases? Which word should we use to refer to teachers (besides "Mr/Ms + teacher’s name or “sir” or “madam” as I find these usages too much relating to French :shock: ) Can it be simply “Mr/Ms”?

Are these usages natural and native:

1/ Good morning, Miss!
2/ I’m sorry but I can’t do that, Mr.
3/ My dear Miss, I’ll try but I’m afraid I’ll fail

=> I’ve had a check on the BNC and found some results for “morning, Miss”, but as for the 2 last sentences, I somehow feel so weird… :roll:

Many thanks in advance :slight_smile:

It’s best to use the person’s title and surname. For men you can say “sir”, for women you can say “ma’am”. Even though using “miss” isn’t technically wrong for an unmarried woman, it’s a bit old-fashioned and some feminists might object to it.

If you use “mister” instead of “sir”, you’ll sound like a child in an old movie or TV comedy from 50 years ago or more. Calling a man “mister” instead of “sir” can sound very disrespectful, and when it doesn’t sound disrespectful, it sounds uneducated.

If you call a person Mr., Mrs. or Miss and their first name, like “Mr. Tom”, “Miss Jennifer”, etc., you’ll sound like a black slave from the days of slavery in the US.

It’s also impolite to address your teacher as “teacher”, but it’s okay to address a professor as “professor”. At my university we addressed our professors by their first names, unless they were very old.

“Madam” is also respectful, but you have to be careful with it, because a “madame” (pronounced the same way) is what we call a woman who manages a house of prostitution. Some uneducated people confuse the two. Once my father called a customer “madam” on the telephone and she got furious and said, “I AM NOT A MADAME!”

Middle-aged and elderly American waitresses whose voices sound like they’ve been cured in cigarette smoke for 20 years usually address everyone as “hon”. I find this offensive, but most people don’t mind it.

Many people don’t care how you address them, and they say, “You can call me anything, but don’t call me late for breakfast.”

When Delta Airlines asked me for my title when I was filling out a form once, I wrote “His Divine Grace”. For years later I got letters from Delta addressing me that way.

“Sir” and “madam” are not too French. In fact, “sir” is not French at all, unless you go way back into its etymology.

In the United States, we seldom say “madam” and prefer to say “ma’am”, for reasons I have already mentioned.

“Sir” and “ma’am” are the respect titles we generally use.

The title “Ms.” has to be used before a name and can’t be used alone. In general, it’s only used if we don’t know the woman’s marital status, or if she’s a somewhat extreme feminist and insists on it. (In a cartoon once, I saw a man address a woman in authority as “Mrs. Smith” and the woman barked back, “It’s MS. Smith! And before you ask, yes, I AM MARRIED!” The humor in this is that the original reason for saying “Ms.” was to hide the woman’s marital status, because many feminists thought marriage was demeaning.)

If you really want to do the right thing, why not do what my students do? Near the beginning of the semester, they just ask me what I prefer them to call me. Often they don’t have to ask me, because other students tell them.

Hi Jamie, :slight_smile:
Thanks a lot for your help. But actually it’s not as easy as you think (ask a teacher how he or she prefers to be called) because, as I stated above, here we can NEVER address a teacher or anyone older than us plainly by their name. So when talking with a male teacher, I find it ok to refer to him as “Sir”, but I really find it difficult to address a young female teacher. Does the use of “madam” or “ma’am” sound somehow very formal or make the person being refered to here seem older?

Many thanks
Nessie :slight_smile: